The AFC North is likely to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL this year. The Ravens are still one of the strongest teams in the AFC, the Browns are loaded with talent, the Bengals have a new and exciting quarterback, and the Steelers are getting back their hall of fame QB. The only award that will be handed out at the end of the season is the division title, although I wouldn't be surprised if one or two other teams from the division make the playoffs as wildcards. With so many stars across the division, the question of who the best individual players in the division are will certainly impact the title race. So, even though there aren't any official individual player awards inside each division. let's take a look at who would take home our fictional awards in the AFC North.
Comeback Player of the Year: Ben Roethlisberger
Runners up: Baker Mayfield, Juju Smith-Schuster
The Comeback Player of the Year award is given to the player who shows the most perseverance in overcoming adversity from one year to the next. What player fits that mold better than Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben played in less than two full games in 2019 before an elbow injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. This year, he seems to be fully recovered and ready to perform at a high level. Numerous teammates have been praising him for his performance so far in training camp, and there seems to be little doubt that he will be able to return to his 2018 form. That season, he threw for over 5129 yards and 34 touchdowns in one of the best seasons of his career. If he is able to do so, he would be a gimme to win this award. In fact, I think there is a very good chance he takes home the award for the entire NFL, so why shouldn't he earn it just inside his own division?
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Burrow
Runners up: J.K. Dobbins, Chase Claypool
Another seemingly obvious decision is the award given to the best offensive rookie in the division. As soon as Joe Burrow was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, it became evident who would lead the AFC North rookie class this year. He has all the tools to become an elite quarterback in the NFL, and the only thing holding him back is that he was placed in a less-than-ideal situation in Cincinnati. Still, given the fact he is the only offensive rookie in the North who is certain to be starting Week 1, he has the best shot to earn this fictional award at the end of the season. I could see Baltimore's J.K. Dobbins giving him a run for his money, but with Mark Ingram holding down the starting running back position at least for the first few weeks, I am confident the LSU talent will outperform him this year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Patrick Queen
Runners up: Alex Highsmith, Justin Madubuike
The Ravens selection of Patrick Queen was very reminiscent of the Steelers move for Devin Bush last year. Bush would have been the unanimous pick for this award last season, so it seems fitting that Queen should take it in 2020. The former LSU linebacker was a highly touted prospect entering the draft, and considering the Ravens linebacker struggles a year ago, the pick made perfect sense. The lack of preseason playing time may cut into Queen's early-season snaps, but it's hard to imagine a scenario where he isn't an every-down starter by midseason. His combination of speed and athleticism should give the Ravens a presence at middle linebacker that they haven't had since the retirement of Ray Lewis. The only other player who I think could have really challenged Queen for this award was Browns safety Grant Delpit, but with the news that he will miss most if not all of the season with an injury, Queen is the clear leading candidate. It should be no shock if he breaks 100 tackles as a rookie on his way to taking home our imaginary AFC North Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson
Runners up: Ben Roethlisberger, Odell Beckham Jr.
As much as it pains me to say so, Lamar Jackson's 2019 campaign was one for the ages. Not only did he lead his team to a 14-2 record, but he also became the second player ever to be named a unanimous MVP. Needless to say, he would have been our AFC North Offensive Player of the Year last season. With the talented roster and coaching staff surrounding him, there is reason to be believe Jackson will improve entering his third season. While I am not entirely sold on that idea, I do believe that he will continue to play at an extremely high level and will remain the best offensive player in the division. As defenses have more time to game plan for his electric speed, his stats will likely decline from a year ago. Still, even if he throws for 7 or 8 less touchdowns and runs for 200 less yards, he should play at a high enough level to take home our fictional award in 2020. Jackson has overcome almost every obstacle he has faced so far, and there's no reason he won't continue to do so this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: T.J. Watt
Runners up: Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick
Earlier this summer, I wrote an article describing my bold predictions for this season. On the list was T.J. Watt winning Defensive Player of the Year for the whole NFL, so I have to predict that he will win it for the AFC North as well. T.J. has only gotten better throughout his three year career, improving from 7 sacks his rookie season, to 13 in 2018, and up to 14.5 last year. What's even more impressive is his ability to get to the quarterback isn't what makes him so dangerous; it's his ability to take away the football that will win him this award in 2020. In just three seasons, T.J. has forced 15 fumbles, 8 of which came last year, and has 3 interceptions. He is a takeaway machine, and it's for that reason he finished third in Defensive Player of the Year Voting a year ago. He has fully emerged out of the shadow of his older brother, and is ready to become not one of, but the best player on the defensive side of the ball this year.
Most Valuable Player: Ben Roethlisberger
Runners up: Lamar Jackson, T.J. Watt
The MVP award is one that has been historically dominated by quarterbacks, and as much as I'd like to give our fictional version of it to a defensive player, I don't think that would be realistic. The race for AFC North MVP is one that will come down to the wire this year, with Lamar Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger trading blows each week. Ultimately, I believe that whoever wins the division will earn this award, so for that reason I am giving it to Roethlisberger. At his age of 38, it seems more than likely that Jackson will outperform him statistically. But, that doesn't mean that the Ravens quarterback will be the more valuable player this year. Steelers fans had to sit by and watch last year as horrible quarterback play plagued the offense's ability to put points on the board. The 8-8 end-of-season record was thanks solely to the performance of the defense, and the atrocious play of the offense exposed how incredibly valuable Roethlisberger has been to this team over the past decade and a half. Upon his return this year, I fully expect Roethlisberger to take back the reins as the leader of this team and guide them to the AFC North crown, earning our imaginary AFC North MVP honors along the way.
So what do you think of my AFC North Award Predictions for this year? And are there any other awards you would hand out? Let us know in the comments.